NBC has confirmed that Jay Leno took 50 percent pay cut for his "Tonight Show" gig, following budget cuts.
Leno's annual salary was previously about $30 million a year, before the cuts. His salary as host of "The Tonight Show" has been reduced to $15 million. He also earns a substantial amount doing stand-up tours. During the pay check negotiations, Leno also extended his contract for another two years, until May 2014.
"The Tonight Show" laid off twenty staff members in August and Leno accepted the massive pay cut, reportedly in order to spare other staff members from losing their jobs as well.
Leno's reduced salary was previously estimated to be about $20 million and it was thought that two dozen staff members had been cut. NBC entertainment chief, Robert Greenblatt, confirmed the news to the Wall Street Journal on September 7.
"All we did was bring it back down to pre-prime-time levels," Greenblatt told the newspaper.
The payroll cuts affected 10 percent of staffers on the late night show, which remains the top-rated program in its timeslot.
"Jay's foremost concern is for the wonderful people who work with him at 'The Tonight Show,'" Leno's spokesman Bruce Bobbins told the Associated Press. "He did what was necessary to ensure their well-being."
Despite decent ratings, "The Late Show" was not bringing in a profit. The show's weekly budget was reportedly cut by $600,000 to $1.7 million.
"We are just going to work harder and more efficiently. Our job is to be sure that none of this shows up on screen," Leno told the Wall Street Journal. "Our biggest challenge is the change in viewing habits... We fight daily the DVR and online viewing, but we show up to work 5 days a week to make the show as topical, newsworthy, relatable and funny as possible."
Leno, a standup comedian and Massachusetts native, hosted "The Tonight Show" between 1992 and 2009, after which O'Brien took over for seven months. Leno regained his position after O'Brien left the network last year as part of an NBC shake-up.